The 2018 FIFA World Cup is fast approaching and will undoubtedly be the biggest global sporting event of the year. And where there are big sporting events, there are bookmakers and punters looking to cash in on the ups, downs, shocks and surprises that each game will bring.

For bookmakers, these events present a huge opportunity for increasing brand awareness, especially when the odds are tight. Brazil, Germany, Spain and France – all soccer-mad nations – are almost equal favourites to take out the tournament. But in the context of sports betting, just how big is soccer in Australia, and can we draw on any comparisons with other sports?

Australia is big on sport, and much of the nation will be waiting intently to see if Tim Cahill can work his magic and inspire a team that barely scraped through the qualifiers to make it into the final stages. However, while it’s estimated that the Socceroos’ victory against Honduras and subsequent entry into the group stages will generate up to $100m in marketing, sponsorship and merchandise sales, soccer hasn’t yet established itself as a big player in the gambling market.

Horse racing and greyhounds account for 75% Australia’s betting industry, with soccer only making up a fraction of the remainder, combined with 7 other sports including AFL, Rugby League and Basketball.

Source: Roy Morgan Research, The Gambling Currency Report 2017

Google data also shows that during the last soccer World Cup in 2014, betting-related keywords made up only 0.5% of all World Cup-related search queries. So, on paper at least, gamblers aren’t hugely interested in soccer; by comparison, similar Google data from 2017 shows that 9.4% of all search queries related to AFL were betting related, while for NRL, it was 2.9%.

These numbers aside, the point here is the maturity of the betting industry amongst local sports. For AFL to have nearly 10% of all search queries in a year related to betting (while fully appreciating that 3 years’ difference will skew the data comparisons), that’s surely got to indicate a market that has a desire to bet on sports, and in particular, local teams.

Using our intuition and looking at what users search for, we can also denote the type of gambler they might be. For instance:

  • AFL and NRL showing higher percentages of betting keyword use could indicate a much more mature betting market that attracts more experienced gamblers. (Note: Often, it’s challenging to accrue new punters if they have an affiliation with a bookmaker already.)
  • Users searching for non-betting keywords are more likely to be one-off punters, where potentially they have no strong affiliation with a bookmaker and enjoy the occasional bet when there is a big sporting event driving a lot of interest.

When users are not affiliated to a particular bookmaker, it’s crucial to be in the right place at the right time to capture them while they’re searching with intent. And a big sporting event like the World Cup is a perfect platform to make a brand known to those who aren’t regular gamblers.

So, when can we expect the biggest opportunity to be?

In 2014, the first two weeks of the tournament accumulated the most search interest in Australia for generic keywords related to the World Cup on Google, surpassing both semi-finals and the final. The Socceroos’ first game against Chile was one of the peaks of the tournament, second only to the final.

Source: Google Trends Search Volume Index, search queries related to FIFA World Cup

This year’s World Cup has the potential to be very different. For instance, the Socceroos have a more manageable group compared with the “group of death” they had last time – in fact, Italy, Netherlands and Chile all didn’t make the cut. And the time difference with Russia means the Socceroos’ opening game against France will occur in a prime-time slot on a Saturday at 8PM (AEST), all of which raises the following questions:

  • Considering the first game of the Socceroos’ campaign drove the most interest in 2014 comparable to the final, could the opening game against France (one of the favourites) be the biggest game of the World Cup locally for search interest and sports betting?
  • With many big teams missing, could the World Cup as a whole possibly fail to meet expectations?
  • Could the unlikely happen where the Socceroos make it through to the Last 16, and how would we predict the sheer magnitude of this?

All valid points. One thing is certainly clear for bookmakers though: capitalising on the interest around Game 1 will be key. In the past, by the time Game 2 and Game 3 came round, the buzz had tailed off, and with unfavourable time slots and the likelihood of bad results, this could feasibly happen once again.

We shouldn’t assume that interest in the 2018 World Cup will be lower than in 2014. If anything, it’s fairly safe to say that search volume for World Cup-related keywords could easily be in the region of 60%+ higher this time around, if recent trends across soccer are anything to go by. We only need to look at search volumes for the AFL and NRL Grand Finals (which increased by around 30% over the last 4 years) as a proxy, to help inform this.

Source: Google Trends Search Volume Index, search queries related to AFL & NRL

Then there’s the slight ray of hope that the Socceroos might actually make it through to the knockout stages. What if? Planning for this is a must, and as has been proven so many times in the past with sport, anything can happen! This would be a real head scratcher from a budgeting point of view, but no-one should doubt that this could be a massive opportunity for bookmakers. And for digital marketers working with bookmakers, flexibility to support this possibility is essential.

All in all, the 2018 FIFA World Cup promises to offer an enormous opportunity for bookmakers, not only to sign on new customers but also to increase brand exposure. If the Socceroos make it through to the Last 16, that would certainly be the cherry on top.

Bring it on.

Edward Field

Edward Field is a Digital Performance Manager at iProspect Australia. Edward is a self-motivated, driven and enthusiastic individual with over 4 years of digital marketing experience working in search, social and display.